I have this sort of love/hate relationship with television. I haven’t owned one about a decade. Well, I’ve occasionally had one for a few months here and there, but I didn’t really know what to do with it. So I put flowers on top of it so it would look pretty. (True story).
Growing up, we didn’t really have one. When I was six, my parents read some sort of book denouncing the television as a gateway to depravity and moral decline and a tool of Illuminati propaganda. Their eyes got big and they promptly dragged it out to the dumpster.
I sort of missed my cartoons and my after-school ritual of watching General Hospital with mom. (I never did find out if they got out of the underground cave, and who the father of that baby was). But mainly, I just went back to reading Baby Sitter’s Club and that was the end of that. We got one again when I was about seventeen, but between work and high school activities, it never really became part of my life again.
I guess it has to do with the passive nature of TV. You are just sitting there, for hours, immersing yourself in a figment of someone else’s imagination. Granted, fiction is much the same, but there is something productive to reading. You are imagining, developing vocabulary, and sharpening your reading skills. Books, at least the great ones, are written with plot devices and literary techniques that sharpen your critical thinking skills. They can often be written to say something about society or humanity.
Television can do that too, but it is frequently at a lower level. They have thirty to ninety minutes to introduce characters, tell an entire story, keep you engaged and…then throw their point in there. That’s a lot. Most of the time they spell it out for you. Novels have 80,000 to 120,000 words to do all that.
But I think my reasons for hating television are a lot more self-serving. As a writer, television makes me mad. Not because I analyze the writing. Although, I do drive people crazy when I watch things with them. I spend half the time pointing out the literary devices the screenwriters are using, ruining the movie for everyone.
But, TV makes me mad because behind the actors, and the sets and the exploding cars, or pining lovers, there is a writer. Usually several of them. And they are WAY more successful than me. I imagine that they loved their English classes, just like me. I imagine they would write poetry of adolescent angst, just like me. I imagine they wrote stories and plays growing up, just like me. But, somewhere after the mortarboards and commencement speeches, something happened. Somehow, they got it right. And I have to admit, they are better writers than me. Instead I throw things at the TV and then go shopping. That always helps.
Not only that, I find that if I watch a lot of television, my writing defaults to formula plots and characters. “He’s a rich guy, but he feels trapped by his wealth.” Have I ever met anyone like this? No. If I did, I’d slap them over the head and tell them what they can do with their wealth.
“Well, they have to get back together in the end.” Do they? How many complicated break-ups have you seen in real life that never got back together? Plenty. So no, they don’t have to do anything….
But, on the other hand, there is something magical about TV. Maybe it’s some sort of hypnotic effect. There is nothing that calms your brain after a long day like television. Somehow sitting in front of the warm glow of the television, all your stress, anxiety, unsolvable problems, fade away. Life is just life, and you will figure out something, you think. For a few hours, you can just…be. Exist. This is extremely important, I have found. It also fills up a room and calms a restless spirit. Alone, in an empty house, television can keep you company and help you feel centered.
Television has gone through an incredible revolution in the last decade, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. People don’t watch TV as much, they watch it online more. I did Netflix for a while, although in my experience, Netflix is where bad scripts go to die. But, I’ll latch on to a few shows like Downton Abbey or Nashville via my all-time favorite, the free site, Couch Tuner.
I’ve found that beyond the philosophical reasons against television, there is some good to it. Sometimes you just need to watch a movie. At least I think this right now. Ask me again in six months. Johnny Cash used to say, “Don’t tell anyone my opinion on anything unless I’ve told you in the last fifteen minutes.” That’s about how I feel about television.